Chief minister Mamata Banerjee seems to have depended on experience and rewarded good performers while reshuffling her cabinet ahead of rural polls scheduled for next year.
Sources in the state administration said the most important sign of Mamata’s dependence on experience was the appointment of Pradip Majumdar, the MLA of Durgapur (East), as the panchayat and rural development minister.
A senior government official said Majumdar had worked as the agriculture advisor to the chief minister for the past seven-eight years and handled all important schemes like Krishak Bandhu. Majumdar also played an important role in policy decisions like procurement of paddy and arrangement of seeds for paddy and potato.
“As all these schemes and policies, which are important for rural populace, are successfully handled by Majumdar, it is clear that he has a good knowledge of rural Bengal. The chief minister wants to use his expertise at a time when the panchayat department is facing severe trouble after the Centre suspended the release of funds for several important schemes, including MGNREGA (100-day job scheme) and rural housing scheme,” said a senior official.
Also, Mamata wanted to bring a new face to the helm of the panchayat department as the Centre was mounting pressure on the state to recover the funds allegedly misappropriated under the job scheme.
“If a face like Majumdar is brought to the helm of the department, it sends a message that the state government would not allow any irregular activities in the department’s affairs,” said a source.
A section of officials feels that Majumdar is set to face an uphill task to ensure central funds ahead of the rural polls.
“If the central funds are not released within a couple of months, the ruling party is set to face questions ahead of the rural polls because the MGNREGA provides jobs to lakhs of rural people. So, the new minister will face a tough challenge from the very first day,” said a source.
The chief minister’s dependence on experience was also evident when she gave additional responsibility of the housing department to Aroop Biswas, the power minister Biswas had earlier worked as the housing minister.
“The role of the housing department is important ahead of the rural polls, particularly when the Centre has stopped the release of funds under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, citing that the state changed the name of the scheme sponsored by the Union government. The state wants to provide dwelling units to rural populace with its own scheme — Amar Bari — in the absence of the PMAY ahead of the rural polls. So, appointment of Biswas in the housing department that implements Amar Bari is important,” said a bureaucrat.
In addition to experience, the chief minister also rewarded Pulak Roy for his good work in the public health and engineering department, which is responsible for ensuring drinking water supply across the state. Roy has been given the additional charge of public works department.
“Earlier, Roy was looking after the panchayat department, along with the PHE department. As the PHE department has done well in the past one year or so, he has been given another department that is also related to development of infrastructure. This is a sort of elevation as public works is considered as one of the high profile departments,” said a senior official.